Ship That Sailed Without a Crew for 38 Years
It’s 2018. You get up early in the morning to go ashore and catch some fish. You come to the spot you were yesterday, throw the hook into the sea and wait. The float is twitching.
You’ve caught some fish, but... Hey! Hello! Why aren’t you doing anything? Right now, you don’t care about the fish.
You’re looking at something in the distance. You open your mouth in surprise since you see a huge ship stuck on a shoal. It wasn’t here yesterday, so it got here at night.
Okay, it probably will sail away sooner or later. You fish for a few more hours. During this time, you observe the ship and notice no movement there. Is it empty? Boats and the coastal service are sailing from the shore to the vessel. You decide to check it out, too. You get in your old boat and go there.
The mist descends to the water, making the ship look creepy. The colossal vessel is rusty and empty. But where is the whole crew? And how did it get there? The Coast Guard comes on board. They search the hold, the cabins, and the upper deck. There’s someone’s stuff, some remnants of food supplies, notebooks, and clothes. Everything suggests the crew has disappeared for some reason.
Fishers who noticed the vessel first didn’t see anyone coming down from the board. No radio signals were sent to the port, and no one reported about the ship. It appeared here from nowhere. The only chance to get any information is to look at the number and name of the vessel. This is Sam Ratulangi (ra-tu-Lan-ghi) PB 1600.
The Coast Guard checks the information, studies the data of all the country ships, and... no way! One company built the boat in 2001 in Indonesia. People used it to transport heavy loads across the seas around Asia. The ship had been properly operating for eight years. People were delivering industrial goods to different points in the region, but something went wrong.
In 2009, Sam Ratulangi was sailing near the coast of Taiwan. And that’s it. There were no further records about it. There were no reports in any port. Everyone thought it must have drowned, so no one had been looking for it for years. And then, nine years later, it appears here — big and rusty, off the coast of Myanmar. Without sailors, without fuel.
An investigation starts. City services are trying to find out the names of all the sailors working on the ship and find clues that would lead to solving this mystery. They also hope the shipowner will appear soon. They find two tow-ropes on board. This means that some other ship towed Sam Ratulangi to this place.
Then, they identify and find 13 crew members. These people say they wanted to reach the factory in Bangladesh to repair Sam Ratulangi. Another vessel helped tow the ship, but then two cables tore off, and a storm began. No one wanted to stay on board during such weather, so the crew members left it. No one knows what the ship has been doing for the last nine years and how it was possible without people on board.
And here is another, much more mysterious ship story. On February 16, 2020, locals found a large cargo ship stuck on a rocky shore off the coast of an Irish village. The boat looked rusty, with holes in the hull and rotten parts. People hadn’t seen this vessel the day before. So it appeared there at night.
The last time people saw the Alta cargo ship was a few months earlier, thousands of miles off the coast of Ireland. That day, the Alta was sailing in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Another ship, the MS Protector, noticed it. MS Protector crew members tried to contact the ship but received no response. The people on board realized that they were facing an empty vessel.
And then, five months later, it appeared near the coast of Ireland. There are more questions than answers in this story. But we managed to find something out. In 2015, the Alta appeared and disappeared from the radar several times. Any ship has an internal tracking system, so people can track its route using satellites.
But Alta crew members often disabled this system. Perhaps they were engaged in some illegal activity. Anyway, in 2017, the ship often sailed between the ports of Greek islands. Then, the tracking signal disappeared and appeared only ten months later... off the coast of North Africa. During this time, the ship changed several flags.
In September 2018, the Alta was southeast of Bermuda and heading for Haiti. Then, the crew started facing problems. First, the main engine failed right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The ship began to drift. Several days passed, but the crew members weren’t able to repair it. They began to run out of food and water supplies.
The situation got even worse when they found out that a hurricane was approaching the place. Fortunately, they managed to contact the US Coast Guard. A helicopter flew to the Alta on October 2 to bring them some supplies. There was enough food for several days. Then, a rescue boat sailed to the ship. It evacuated all the sailors and delivered them to Puerto Rico before the hurricane. The Alta had to drift alone in the ocean.
After a while, another ship approached the Alta to tow it to the shores of Guyana. But at this moment, everything went wrong. Someone stole the boat, disabled the tracking system, and sailed away in an unknown direction. After almost a year, the MS Protector found the empty Alta in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. And then, nine months later, the ship without a crew sailed to the shores of Ireland. How did it manage to travel across the Atlantic and get to the coast of Ireland?
It’s still a mystery. Maybe it was just luck. No one else saw the ship all this time. It was just covering huge distances surviving storms. Who’s the captain? What happened to the thieves? Who owns the ship now? One day, someone called the village administration and introduced themselves as the vessel owner. But that unknown person didn’t provide any evidence.
They found several barrels of oil on the ship, which they took away by helicopter. The Alta was rusting. Corrosion of metal could damage the environment. The vessel had no commercial value, yet it would have taken millions to get rid of it. There were three options for what to do: leave the ship where it was, tow it into the sea and let it sink, or disassemble it for scrap. But nature had its own plans.
Storms and strong waves split the hull into two parts. The Alta was drifting without a crew in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean for about two years. But this is nothing compared to a ship that was traveling for 38 years! The record belongs to the SS Baychimo. It was a merchant vessel owned by some trading company. In 1931, the ship found itself on the ice off the coast of Alaska. Its movement slowed down, a thick layer of ice blocked the ship, and a strong storm only made the situation worse.
The blizzard was so intense that the crew members couldn’t see anything but a white veil in front of their eyes. Sailing any further was impossible. The team had to wait for the storm to end. They waited for a day, two, three days. A week had passed, but the snowstorm was only getting stronger. Then, one day, it grew weaker.
The crew members split into two teams. The first team went to the nearest city. The second group, along with the captain, stayed on board. They set up camp next to the ship and waited for the blizzard, which had started again, to end. There was zero visibility. And finally, one day, the storm was over. Great! And now... Wait a minute. But where is the ship? The SS Baychimo just disappeared during the blizzard!
The captain was sure that the ship had sunk, so he left along with the crew. Then, a week later, they saw the vessel drifting near the area where they had lost it. The hull was damaged so severely that it was unsafe to sail on it.
Repairing the ship would be pointless and expensive, so the captain decided to abandon it. He was sure that it would go underwater sooner or later. But it stayed afloat for the next few days, the next few months, and a few years. People had reported seeing it at various points along the coast of Alaska for 38 years.
The last record of the SS Baychimo is dated 1969. Those who saw it claimed the ship was completely frozen, almost merged with the ice. Some people planned to start an expedition to find the ship. But all attempts were unsuccessful. The vessel is probably lying somewhere on the deep seafloor.